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the satire of our betters

with 8 comments

Not that one should really go in for such things, but I just saw a Gawker post that makes a point pertinent to other things that I’ve been thinking about lately. Only going to name one name here, as it’s a name attached to a current piece, but I’m starting to notice a bit of a trend or a trope that is persistently appearing in a certain, well, caste of writing:

1) one writes an article / piece / novel that is a bit or a lot tone deaf when it comes to the social positionality of the dramas, humorousness, or both invoked

2) perhaps one thus delights / edifies / entertains those readers / viewers how happen to share the social position involved but then

3) one is criticised for the naive / un-reflexive / bizarre / grating (attempts at) drama or humor, perhaps by those who don’t share the same social position, and so

4) one explains / argues that said piece was meant in jest / as satire.

For instance, see this piece by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian in The New Inquiry, this response to the piece, and the original writer’s response to the response.

The trick  – and this runs parallel to what the Harvard kids in the video on Gawker don’t get either – is that the ultimate purpose of one’s piece, the final message, may well undercut any semi-satiric posturing that comes in the middle. That is to say, if in the New Inquiry piece, in the words of the author,

the ‘woe is columbia’ attitude was intended to be self-mocking (um, i guess i failed?) and the main point i was trying to make is that going to fancy liberal arts college actually makes you less competent for the kinds of jobs you get right after college…

it’d probably be better for the penultimate (or is it ultimate?) point not to be that the problem with humanities degrees is that just about anyone – not just the tenderly cultivated products of international schools who end up at Columbia – can get one. As she says in the initial essay linked above:

The reason for the bachelor’s degree’s impending obsolescence has a lot to do with the high costs, and now publicly-recognized flaws of American four-year colleges. It is also an inevitable consequence of just how available higher education has become. With limitless student loans and free-for-all admissions to for-profit colleges, education is no longer a surefire indicator of class or race—a valuable function for the reproduction of both hierarchies—or even intelligence or ability—the supposed backbone of the information economy.

Anyway, it is one example of many, this… But you see how it works, right? Someone calls you on your snobbery or silliness, and you in turn call them, implicitly or explicitly, on their stupidity for not getting the in-joke, the ironic jargon of the quad, the argot of the ivied.

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 8, 2012 at 2:46 am

8 Responses

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  1. Sorry. I keep revising this. Not sure why I’ve never gotten the hang of drafting, reading, correcting, and only then posting when it comes to the blog. I’ve been doing this long enough to know better.

    adswithoutproducts

    March 8, 2012 at 3:02 am

  2. Explain how a failed attempt at self-mockery — her description — scans to you as arrogance?

    anonymous

    March 8, 2012 at 5:22 am

  3. Because it doesn’t actually feel like an attempt, failed or not, at self-mockery. It feels like it was the sort of thing that you label self-satire after you’re called out on it.

    I.e. it’s more equivalent to (say) coming home to your partner, throwing a little hissy fit because he / she hadn’t made you dinner or something, getting called out as a jerk of a partner, and then saying: “Jesus – I was only playing at being a jerk! Get a sense of humor!” Or something like that.

    adswithoutproducts

    March 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

  4. Ads, I used to go crazy on proof sheets and so it didn’t overly surprise me that immediately after I self-publish a post I go crazy on revising it. I don’t get why there’s this magically clarifying and motivating difference between an uploaded post and a preview in exactly the same format and context, but I can’t deny it either.

    Only recently, though, have I started waiting a while before updating the feed.

    Regarding the main point, yeah. I started noticing the process with poetry and fiction in the late 1970s. “What, you think I was wallowing in sexism / racism / assholery? I was pointing out how terrible it is!” I even remember saying the same thing a couple of times before deciding it was a weak defense. Goes back at least to Byron, I reckon, and was still happening at some of my last fiction workshops.

    Ray Davis

    March 8, 2012 at 3:22 pm

  5. Hey Mike, where’d you go to school again?

    You jackass, her point isn’t that it’s bad that more poor kids can go to college, but that this development fucks with the traditional function of higher ed as it relates to the reproduction of social class. She’s making the point that the more people goes to college, the less the elite need it as a distinguishing mechanism.

    But you probably already knew that, you were just doing performing 5 which is Ivy League grad criticizes other Ivy League grad for being an Ivy League grad in order to give the appearance of distance from that compromised subject position. It’s the same thing that happens in radical circles when everyone waits for someone to say something – really anything at all – so they can be the first to call them on overlooking something.

    It’s hater politics. Get a new hobby.

    Malcolm Harris

    March 10, 2012 at 12:57 am

  6. Malcolm,

    I went to good schools, yes. But I don’t share the sort of attitudes about that that are on display in the article in question. Not sure that I felt myself entitled to much of anything upon graduation, let alone before graduation – and was shocked when anything good did happen.

    I spent my summers (and, yes, lucky it was only summers) stocking shelves in supermarkets during college.

    her point isn’t that it’s bad that more poor kids can go to college, but that this development fucks with the traditional function of higher ed as it relates to the reproduction of social class. She’s making the point that the more people goes to college, the less the elite need it as a distinguishing mechanism

    Yep – all of this in an article basically saying she shouldn’t have bothered going to college. How can you not see the problem with that? “This development fucks with the traditional function of higher ed as it relates to the reproduction of social class”… and so she regrets having gone!

    appearance of distance from that compromised subject position.

    Poor guy. What sort demented scene are you living in where you actually can think that coming from an elite educational situation gives you a “compromised subject position”? People listen to me more than they listen to other people because of the laurels on my CV. Obviously. Obviously. That’s the point – I live with an awareness of that. Others seem not to.

    It’s the same thing that happens in radical circles when everyone waits for someone to say something – really anything at all – so they can be the first to call them on overlooking something.

    Please tell me we’re not back to the whole “grey vampire” episode here. Does it really seem like I’m disrupting some sort of promising radical sequence by criticizing this article?

    adswithoutproducts

    March 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm

  7. The downside was that it made me feel old. I worried about being mistaken for a mother, and by extension, formerly sixteen-and-pregnant. I envied the carefree cartoon-watching and ice-cream-eating summers my charges took for granted. Last summer, when I was watching two elementary-school-aged girls on the Upper West Side, I felt older still when I found an errant resume lying on the oak coffee table in the living room.

    The name in the header was Gossip Girl worthy. Somebody had obviously paid close attention to details like line spacing and fonts. And the young woman’s accomplishments—let us call her Angeline—were astounding.

    Angeline was the LeBron James of the labor market. By the time she’d turned 17, Angeline had worked at a cardiovascular research lab, a local conservancy organization, and an art website. She was a math and squash champion who helped kids in Harlem with their homework. She had a perfect GPA and a spot at Yale in the Fall.

    I looked her up on Facebook. She was horrifically pretty.

    That summer, Angeline worked at J. P. Morgan as an investment-banking high-school analyst. She’s now a summer analyst at the same company. I found out through LinkedIn, and wish her the best in her future endeavors.

    It seems clear that Yale needs her more than she needs Yale.

    What is this? It’s like very low grade chick lit, a lame “Nanny Diaries” imitation. What is the point?

    And there’s a hint of the fraud here: “who helped kids in Harlem with their homework” and of course, it has a certain character, it’s an Alex Keaton or Zizek line, it is tapping a whole image vocabulary, the contempt for the do-gooder and the “kids in Harlem” (this is clearly racial code despite the whitening of Harlem proper since 2001) whom she “helps with homework”. It’s obviously a fabrication.

    So what is this piece really?

    alphonsevanworden

    March 15, 2012 at 4:19 am

  8. You can’t break child-labor laws when victims are willing and no money changes hands.

    That’s “satire” as well? Or is she simply an ignoramus?

    alphonsevanworden

    March 15, 2012 at 4:28 am


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